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Saints must limit big plays

The Sports Xchange

While he was certainly happy with a fourth straight victory, which put his team in the driver's seat to win the NFC South title and at least get a first-round playoff game at home, Saints coach Sean Payton was looking for more Sunday night.

A 31-17 win over the Detroit Lions, which is still very much in the hunt for a playoff berth, would make most coaches happy. The difference to Payton was that his players continue to make the little mistakes that could wind up costing them further down the road.

On Sunday night, the laundry list was long: Some blown pass coverages on defense, the inability to get a yard on fourth down to finish off the Lions late in the game, and failing to break a big punt return had Payton thinking that the Saints (9-3) still have much work to do before the postseason begins.

The one that really resonated with Payton was his pass defense. The Saints gave up pass plays of 22 (twice), 36, 47 and 49 yards as Matthew Stafford threw for 408 yards in completing 31 of 44 passes.

"We gave up some big plays," Payton said, "some guys were uncovered. Defensively, we can play better on the back end."

Perhaps, but some defensive players say part of the reason is because of how efficient the offense has been through the first 12 games. Because the Saints lead the NFL in total offense as well as passing offense, and rank second in scoring, opponents are throwing a lot after they fall behind.

"We're going to get a lot of yardage put on us defensively just because teams are going to try to catch up and throw the ball," free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "But we made the plays we needed to (against Detroit), to keep points off the board and let our offense do what they do."

--After a successful third quarter of the season, the Saints are looking for a lot more as they head down the stretch to what should be a third straight playoff appearance.

The Saints got off the mat and dusted themselves after finishing the first half of the schedule with a 31-21 setback to a St. Louis Rams team that has won just one other game and were 4-0 in a stretch that ended with a 31-17 win Sunday night against the Detroit Lions.

Once 5-3, the Saints (9-3) now hold a two-game cushion over the Atlanta Falcons (7-5) in the NFC South race with four games remaining -- including one with the Falcons on Dec. 26 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Despite the win over the Lions, which ended a run of four straight games against what coach Sean Payton identified as NFC playoff contenders, Payton said the Saints have a lot of work to do in order to secure a third division title in his six seasons with the team.

The Saints weren't nearly as dominant on Sunday as they were six nights earlier when they blew the New York Giants out of the Superdome, letting the Lions come back from a 24-7 halftime deficit to make it a game -- at 24-17 -- by the end of the third period.

A defensive stop and a 55-yard touchdown drive engineered by Drew Brees, however, gave the Saints the momentum they had lost in the third quarter and a more comfortable two-touchdown advantage.

And while they held the Lions at arms length the rest of the way, Payton issued his usual warning about how things can still go wrong if they aren't careful -- especially with road games at Tennessee and Minnesota coming in the next two weeks.

"I think the minute you think everything's perfect is not a good thing," he said.

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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